Reflection 7: Of Lao Tzu, Lev Vygotsky and The Education System Part 1

Many years ago when I was much younger I learned a powerful phrase from someone whom I consider a mentor. He quoted from Lao Tzu – “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. That quote stuck in my mind ever since. The notion “teacher” in the quote doesn’t necessarily mean teacher per se. It means anything and anybody for as long as we are ready to learn. Lao Tzu is a philosopher who lived in the 6th century China and is regarded as the founder of Taoism.

I have mentioned in my earlier posting about constructivism, how it has evolved from cognitive constructivism into a myriad of learning theories. The turning point of the development I personally believe owes in no small amount to the ideas on Social Development Theory expounded by Lev Vygotsky. Yes, Piaget’s cognitive development theory is still relevant – it attempts to explains how we individual beings learn. However, we don’t learn by ourselves. Vygotsky introduced collaborative learning and his social theory continues to be expanded and in Bronfenbrenner’s ecological development theory we understand that at any point in time our learning lives we are assisted by the people and environment around us. I have also shared group cognition and activity theories in earlier posts.

Vygotksy’s ideas on social development are twofold – inter-psychological and intra-psychological; in that one learns first at social level (the former) and at individual level (the latter). This concept essentially explains that a child learns first from his environment, the society he is in, before integrating or internalising such knowledge within himself. He also introduced the concept of MKO, the more knowledgeable other; that we learn from the more knowledgeable, higher skilled or more experienced persons around us in the society. He further expanded the knowledge construction through what he termed as “zone of proximal development” or ZPD; where the learner know but yet haven’t achieved the right proficiency or mastery to perform independently thus requiring help from the MKO. Unfortunately, Vygotsky died young at the age of 38 in 1934.

Vygotsky’s theory has been around for a long time, nearly 90 years, but the application of his theory is hardly seen in the Malaysian context. In 2018, the newly elected government of Malaysia made a decision to make certain key changes to how lower primary schools education were to be delivered. One of it was to remove the summative assessment for Year 1 to Year 3 with emphasis on learning-centredness, starting in year 2019. Two, as a result of the removal of assessment, students are no longer segregated by their perceived level of intelligence. I strongly believe such moves will enable the local education system to embrace Vygotsky’s ideals. I believe this is the turning point that would enable greater evolution of education in Malaysia, as I will explain in my next post.

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